Quaker Valley girls coming together for stretch run

Sunday, February 5, 2023 | 11:01 AM

After a sluggish start, the Quaker Valley girls basketball team quickly picked up steam this season.

The Quakers won 11 of 13 games to end the month of January with a 6-1 record in Section 2-4A and 13-6 overall.

“I’m pretty pleased with how the team is playing,” QV coach Ken Johns said. “I like how the team has come together and is working to get better every day.

“There are definitely some things we need to continue to work on, but the girls play hard, accept coaching well and like to compete. That’s really all I can ask.”

A seven-game winning streak that ran from Dec. 17-Jan. 9 erased the memories of the Quakers’ early 2-4 record. The QV girls closed out January with four wins in five games.

“Overall, I like how we’ve progressed since the beginning of the season,” Johns said. “It takes a little time for each team each year to come together and form their own identity, and we got to that fairly quickly, but it is still a work in progress.

“With so many players participating in fall sports, we didn’t have the core of the team together until the start of the season. The preseason and the early part of the season really felt like one thing. Once we got everyone together and now that we’ve had them working together for a few months, I’ve seen a good amount of improvement in some key areas. Our nonsection schedule was tough and got us ready for what is always a challenging section schedule.”

Quaker Valley was ranked fourth in Class 4A in the Trib HSSN WPIAL girls basketball rankings for the week ending Jan. 29.

Oumou Thiero, a 6-foot-4 freshman, made an immediate impact for the Quakers and is the team leader in scoring (13.5 ppg), rebounding (10 rpg) and blocks.

Thiero, who is listed as a guard/forward and is the younger sister of Kentucky freshman guard Adou Thiero, is helped out on the boards by Shannon Von Kaenel, a 5-10 senior forward who averages close to seven rebounds per game.

“I’m so proud of our team,” Von Kaenel said. “We’ve really connected on the court and proved this year that we are ready to play anyone. We are a strong team with a lot of skill, and it will take us far.”

The QV backcourt is paced by senior guards Nora Johns, who averages 12.2 ppg and leads the team in assists and steals, and Maria Helkowski, who sports an 11.6 ppg average.

Johns is a three-sport standout in basketball, soccer and track. She is a fourth-year starter for the Quakers.

“So far this season, I think we have done extremely well,” Johns said. “We have good chemistry on and off the floor, and I think that is really starting to show. I hope we can win the rest of our section games and make it far in the playoffs.

“My ultimate goal this season is a WPIAL championship, and I think we have the team to do it. We want big things this season. If continue to work and get better every day, I believe we will accomplish our goals.”

Johns and Helkowski were the only returning starters on this year’s team. Helkowski is a two-year starter.

“We had some injuries early in the season that really challenged our team,” Helkowski said, “but we battled through and I think that has made us a better team.

“I’m super focused on playing at a high level down this stretch run. I have been playing basketball since third grade, and I really love my teammates and coaches.”

The Quakers’ starting lineup consists of Johns, Helkowski, Von Kaenel, Thiero and junior guard Madi Chapman.

“The group of seniors, the three starters plus (guard) Silvia Almanzar, who has started some games for us and gives us meaningful minutes as a reserve, has been playing together for a long time,” said Johns, QV’s second-year coach. “I’ve been around them for a long time, and it’s been fun to watch them grow as individuals and as a team. It’s the kind of thing we are looking for to build a successful and sustainable program.”

Thanks to their winning ways in the second half of the season, the QV girls clinched a WPIAL playoff berth and were looking forward to the postseason.

“We have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs, which was a goal of ours,” coach Johns said. “As for what happens then, I’m not sure. We’ll probably do the same thing and take it one day at a time.”

The Quakers advanced to both the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs last season in Johns’ first year as floor boss.


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